Photo: Julieta Cervantes

  • HR


Opening Night:
January 31, 2015
March 1, 2015

Theater: Abrons Arts Center Henry Street Settlement / 466 Grand Street, New York, New York, 10002


Armed with their notepads and recorders, artists from the intrepid investigative theater company The Civilians crossed the mountain range that divides Hollywood from the “other Hollywood”--the San Fernando Valley, world capital of porn. The Civilians’ crew listened and learned, conducting interviews and visiting sets to get an insider’s glimpse into a world that is far more than the sum of its (very) visible parts. The Civilians’ time in the Valley captured a singular time in our culture; this digital era that’s radically transformed the business of sex. Pretty Filthy is ultimately a story about trying to make a life and a living in an ever-changing world—a task that’s all the more complicated when your work is so intimately tied to customer “satisfaction.”


    The Hardbitten Sex Business Laid Bare, Comically and Less So

    Charles Isherwood

    February 9, 2015: A rear view of the famous Hollywood sign, seen as through a haze of smog, makes an aptly symbolic backdrop for Pretty Filthy, the new show from the Civilians about the ups and downs of life in the pornography industry. The epicenter of the business is the San Fernando Valley, just a few freeway miles from the canyons where real movie stars live, but as this pretty funny, pretty sad and, yes, pretty dirty show affirms, the existential distance between the two worlds could be measured in light-years. The show, which opened on Sunday at the Abrons Arts Center, takes the form of a revue, combining songs by the company’s ever-reliable Michael Friedman and scenes written by Bess Wohl. As is always the case with Civilians shows, the material derives from interviews with actual people, from the hardened workers behind the scenes (“Two things you need to shoot porn? A camera and a thumb”) to the performers baring their all under the lights (“It was like being with a corpse,” one complains, “a corpse who giggled”). Of giggles there are quite a few in Pretty Filthy. It’s considerably more successful at mining the absurd humor in the porn world, without resorting to sniggering condescension (well, almost never), than fictional plays like Elaine May’s Adult Entertainment or David West Read’s The Performers. Still the laughter has a way of sticking in your throat.


    The investigative theater troupe The Civilians explore Los Angeles' adult film industry in their new musical

    Frank Scheck

    February 8, 2015: In their previous shows the acclaimed experimental theater troupe The Civilians has tackled such topics as climate change, the 1871 Paris Commune and urban redevelopment. So it's hardly surprising that they've decided to address a literally sexier subject with their newest production Pretty Filthy, about the adult entertainment industry. Featuring songs with such titles as "Squirting 101" and "Waiting for Wood," this breezily entertaining musical is, for obvious reasons, likely to become this innovative company's most popular offering yet. As is their usual custom, the piece was created via extensive research conducted by the troupe's members, who journeyed to the San Fernando Valley, that world capital of porn, to interview adult film stars, agents, directors and cameramen and to spend time on film sets. Judging by what we see onstage, the process must have been a blast. Book writer Bess Wohl uses the story of a single performer as a connective tissue for the vignette-style piece featuring songs composed by Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, The Fortress of Solitude). The main character is Becky (Alyse Alan Louis), a fresh-faced young woman desperate to break free from her small town existence where, as she sings in the musical number "What If I Like It," "You only get $7.20 an hour/Working the weekend shift at Hardees." Journeying to California, she quickly finds an agent and is transformed into "Taylor St. Ives." (One of the show's interesting tidbits of information is that it costs five dollars to register a porn name).

  • VULTURE REVIEW OF Pretty Filthy

    Pretty Filthy Doesn't Make You Want to Stick Around the Next Morning

    Jesse Green

    February 8, 2015: The Civilians call the work they do “investigative theater,” which sounds very high-minded; their name, too, suggests engagement in the real life of society as opposed to the artificial life of the stage. If that’s a false dichotomy, it isn’t a pose. Company members conduct hundreds of interviews, often involving years of research, before assembling the results into musicals that are collages of nearly verbatim text. (Even the lyrics are mostly “found,” which is why they’re often so clunky.) In recent shows on topics such as urban planning and evangelism, the surprise of vernacular song and unimproved speech helps to puncture the self-importance of the talking-heads dramaturgy, and the editing of characters and dialogue is understandably weighted toward the piquant and hilarious. The Civilians are, after all, out to entertain. But something odd happens when entertainment itself becomes the subject of their investigation, as it does in their latest production, Pretty Filthy, about the porn industry. The subject resists them; their technique goes limp. Which is not to say Pretty Filthy isn’t funny and smart. Bess Wohl’s script efficiently deploys its many characters and issues, focusing most consistently on the first year or two in the porn life of Becky, a 17-year-old girl from “somewhere in America” who soon upon arrival in Los Angeles reinvents herself as Taylor St. Ives.



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